“Uh, no. I'm not ready for the season to start,” Fields said. “I'm the type of guy that would like to know I'm prepared. So, right now, I'm just being honest, we're not ready to play a game right now.”
Eighty-nine days later, the second-year quarterback will be on the field for the Bears’ regular-season home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Fields’ valuation of the Bears is true for most NFL teams at this time of year. His connection with his pass-catchers and the operation of the offense is supposed to be a work in progress during the offseason.
The 23-year-old has undergone a lot of changes since the Bears overhauled their regime after the 2021 season. He’s been given a new playcaller and scheme and a host of new teammates, and has honed new throwing and footwork mechanics. Naturally, the quarterback feels more comfortable now with a year of pro experience under his belt. Still, Fields expects mistakes to happen, and despite things not feeling seamless, he sees the potential.
“Of course,” Fields said. “With the concepts that we have, with the players we have, I think everybody's catching on pretty quick. Like I said, they're throwing a lot at us right now, so, as long as we can manage to do everything right or do most of everything right and not make the same mistake again, I think we'll be just fine when that time comes around.”
That goes for himself, too, and it was noticeable during organized team activities and minicamp. The impression Fields left on his teammates this spring has the Bears energized about his growth and how it will translate to training camp next month.
FIELDS ENTERED HIS second offseason with a different mindset. He’s the unquestioned starter in Chicago, no longer having to battle with others for QB1 status, which allowed him to show his leadership in ways he might not have as a rookie.
“He is learning, but while he’s learning, he’s upset with mistakes,” tight end Ryan Griffin said. “He’s not OK with guys in the wrong place. He’ll tell you that, and that’s what you need in the leader of this offseason. An example would be some guy makes a [mental error], ‘It’s OK, we’ll move on.’ No, we get it corrected right there, and it starts with No. 1.”
What Fields demands of others is what he also requires of himself. Chicago’s three-day mandatory minicamp was a microcosm of what offseason practices have looked like for the Bears' offense. On Day 1, Fields had three straight unsuccessful plays during the team portion -- a pick-six, a batted pass and an incompletion -- but came back the next day and strung together several chunk plays during Chicago’s move-the-ball period. On the final day of minicamp, Fields and his tight ends executed well in the red zone, but he did throw an interception the following period.
Fields is processing a heavy load of new information from offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. With that comes learning how to fix his own mistakes on the fly, such as when he practiced throwing deep balls through blustery conditions after one disappointing practice.
“There was a day where it was windy as heck and he was upset because the wind was blowing like 30 miles an hour in,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “He's out there like launching balls after practice. It’s definitely something that he works on, and you can see it.”
The Bears turned over a bulk of last year’s roster and brought in a handful of weapons for Fields, including receivers Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr. and Equanimeous St. Brown along with two tight ends and fifth-round running back Trestan Ebner.
While every player is tasked with learning a new system, those who were with Fields during his rookie season can best attest to how much he's improved his leadership while continuing to learn.
“You just feel him in the huddle,” Kmet said. “He's not just repeating the play, he's telling you the play, and there's a difference in that. That gives me confidence as a player out in the field. He's talking to each guy. It's not just a repeat-a-play, he's telling us a play, which is a difference.”
And it’s apparent to more than just those who are catching passes.
“He has a commanding leadership on the field, a legit field general,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “He gets guys wound up, gets guys going.”
FIELDS AND WIDEOUT Darnell Mooney, who led Chicago in receiving last season with 1,055 yards and four touchdowns, have worked tirelessly to hone their connection.
There was no big play or practice in which things suddenly came together. Rather, on one mundane off day this spring, Mooney noticed things felt different.
“We were in the Walter Payton Center just throwing the ball around, and it just felt like every ball that we were throwing and catching, it was just like connecting,” the third-year receiver said. “It wasn’t too much to it. We were out there doing our thing. It felt good, it felt natural.”
Perhaps no one has observed the strides Fields has made this offseason more closely than Mooney. The two have pushed each other in the weight room, competing to see who could get the most work in on a day off from practice. Chicago’s offense is predicated on rhythm and timing, so Fields altering his footwork to hit receivers in stride will correlate directly to Mooney’s success.
The extra time Mooney has spent with Fields has shined a light on the quarterback's work ethic. He believes Fields has what it takes not only to help the offense evolve from a work in progress to a punctilious unit, but also to make a jump in Year 2.
“He wants to take over the league,” Mooney said. “He’s already Justin Fields. He wants to be the best quarterback in the league. He’s taken the stride to be there. I got unbelievable faith that he will be there, and his success is my success. So, as long as he’s doing good, I’m doing good, we’re all doing good.”